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As Delta Variant Cases Climb, University Will Maintain Indoor Mask Mandate

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The University will continue to require masks indoors regardless of vaccination status as the Delta variant has driven a nationwide rise in coronavirus cases, Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen wrote in an email to Harvard affiliates on Wednesday.

Nguyen wrote that HUHS continues to monitor the situation with Delta, but announced no changes to campus policies besides an extension of the indoor mask mandate. Harvard announced in May that it would require all students, staff, and faculty to be vaccinated to return to campus this fall.

“Our best weapon against the Delta variant is campus-wide vaccination,” Nguyen wrote Wednesday. “The vaccines work in preventing serious infections. A small percentage of vaccinated persons have experienced “breakthrough” infections, but these cases tend to have mild or moderate symptoms (or no symptoms).”

Wednesday also marks the first day of relaxed testing cadences for affiliates on campus, which were announced earlier this month. Frequency requirements range from once every other week to twice per week depending on vaccination status, presence on campus, and local infection rates.

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Compared to testing requirements over the summer, the new cadences are more spaced out for vaccinated individuals: those who are vaccinated and living in undergraduate housing must submit tests once per week, rather than twice a week. All other vaccinated and on-campus affiliates must submit tests once every other week, rather than once a week.

In a July 15 interview with the Harvard Gazette — a University-run publication — Nguyen explained that Covid-19 vaccinations and the decrease in local infection rates has allowed for less frequent testing, but that continuing testing remains important.

“Testing, even less frequently, still allows us to keep an eye on infections in our community, including among vaccinated individuals,” he wrote. “For unvaccinated people we are not changing the testing cadence, since infections are more likely to occur among unvaccinated members of our community.”

As announced on May 28, Harvard will require Covid-19 vaccination from all Harvard affiliates spending time on campus in the fall, though individuals may seek an exemption. International students unable to obtain Covid-19 vaccination before coming to campus will not need to be quarantined if asymptomatic and can get vaccinated at HUHS’s weekly vaccine clinics. Individuals who remain unvaccinated for any reason may be subject to additional Covid-19 testing and masking requirements.

Nguyen wrote on July 8 that Harvard has received proof of vaccination from more than 30,000 University affiliates. Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an email that HUHS does not have updated numbers as of Wednesday.

As of May 29, on-campus individuals no longer need to complete Crimson Clear — a daily symptom attestation — every day, though still should if they have tested positive, been exposed to Covid-19, or are experiencing symptoms.

Though Harvard will continue to require masks indoors, physical distancing is no longer required indoors or outdoors for vaccinated individuals as of July 15. Those who are unvaccinated will still need to physically distance themselves indoors.

In the interview with the Gazette, Nguyen also expressed concern about the emergence of the Delta variant, describing it as “one of the biggest challenges that we’re facing in this country and globally right now.” To protect against further mutation of the variant and its more extreme symptoms, Nguyen urged individuals to get vaccinated.

“You can expect that you will likely be as safe on campus as anywhere else, as the state and surrounding communities have lifted restrictions, because we have been very thoughtful and careful in ensuring that we’re thinking first about the safety of our community members as we approach this next phase of re-opening campus more broadly,” Nguyen told the Gazette.

—Staff writer Claire H. Guo can be reached at claire.guo@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @clairehguo.

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